Lucille Clifton

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How do Lucille Clifton's and Maxine Kumin's selected poems intersect or differ?

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The four poems, Lucille Clifton's"to my last period" and "poem to my uterus" and Maxine Kumin's "Skinnydipping with William Wordsworth" and "Sonnet in So Many Words" intersect in their speakers' voices, second-person address, and use of questions. The poems differ in subject matter and in the nature of the speakers' addresses to others.

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The four poems—Lucille Clifton's "to my last period" and "poem to my uterus" and Maxine Kumin's "Skinnydipping with William Wordsworth" and "Sonnet in So Many Words"—intersect in their form of address, in their reflective tones, and in their proposal of a question.

Each poem is directed to a you, though the addressees change. In Clifton's "to my last period," the addressee is a menstrual cycle; in "poem to my uterus", the speaker addresses her womb. In Kumin's "Skinnydipping," the speaker addresses poet William Wordsworth, and in "Sonnet in So Many Words," the speaker addresses an unknown "you" that is likely a lover.

Each of the poems also contains an element of intimacy. In "to my last period" and "poem to my uterus," Clifton's speakers share an intimacy with a period and a uterus, respectively, addressing them as "girl"—a familiar term of address. In Kumin's "Skinnydipping" and "A Sonnet in So Many Words," the intimacy is between lovers, real and imagined.

The poems also pose questions that are the result of reminiscing and reflection. In "to my last period," the speaker asks, "wasn't she beautiful?" in reference to her now-gone period. The tone is bittersweet, ambivalent, and wistful.

In "poem to my uterus," the speaker asks,

where can i go
without you
where can you go
without me

In both of Clifton's poems, the speaker is missing a piece of herself—and, arguably, of her perception of her own femininity.

In Kumin's "Skinnydipping with William Wordsworth," there is a difference in delivery. The speaker asks multiple questions in this poem, but the pivotal question comes in the middle of the poem, when the speaker asks,

Ah, Will, high summer now; how many more
of these?

Here, the speaker is reflecting, and the tone, as in Clifton's two poems, is wistful.

In "Sonnet in So Many Words," the poem finishes, as Clifton's two poems do, with a question. In this poem, the question—"Can you taste it?"—is less reflective than the others, though it is still directed at the addressee in the poem. Where the previous three questions in the three aforementioned poems feel rhetorical, this question seems to require answer. It is put to the addressee more directly. However, the tone of the poem remains reflective, and the speaker reminisces in this poem just as the speakers in the other three poems do. There is also a similarity between this poem and Kumin's other poem in that both reference literary figures, while Clifton's poems do not.

All four poems have a thread of implicit sexuality. In Clifton's "to my last period," the speaker describes the period as having been "splendid in your red dress" and as a "hussy," personifying the period as a seductress. In "poem to my uterus," the uterus is described as, among other things, "my black bag of desire." In Kumin's "Skinnydipping," the poem opens with the speaker lying naked and uses charged imagery throughout to create the "seductive nature" of the poem. In "Sonnet in So Many Words," there is a sense of an unfulfilled sexual tension in the final question.

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